What is Digital Fabrication Ventures?

Digital Fabrication Ventures (DFV) is a seed company that is conducting research, developing prototypes, securing investment, and seeking prospective partners for a new technology business start-up.

What is the overall business idea?

The immediate goal is to develop and secure intellectual property for several technologies related to personal digital fabrication. The ultimate goal is to successfully license and/or commercialize products based on those technologies.

What is "personal digital fabrication"?

In essence, personal digital fabrication is to object-making what personal computing has been for information technology. In practice, it is a system of hardware and software designed to allow individuals or small teams to fabricate complex objects or devices. Its value is that it allows them to do so without the specialized facilities, technical skills, large time investments, or capital outlays that are otherwise required.

How does a "personal digital fabricator" work?

It's a hardware device similar to a desktop printer, except that instead of printing ink on a flat piece of paper, it builds up layers of material in three-dimensions. It can create physical objects or parts out of plastic, metal, and other materials based on a user-defined design. The design can be downloaded directly from the web, or it may be created, modified, and simulated digitally using software that runs on a standard PC. The PC then "drives" the digital fabricator as it creates the finished object.

Sounds like sci-fi fantasy. Is this real?

This is not fiction. This type of technology has existed commercially for over 20 years in the form of industrial "Rapid Prototyping" (RP) systems. The RP industry has been growing steadily with an annual growth rate between 15% to 25%. However, the current generation of RP systems are far too large, expensive, and complex to be of practical use by non-specialists. They typically can only output one type of material, and require a high level of technical expertise to operate. Our vision is to provide a solution that is simultaneously cheaper, easier to use, and more flexible. We are currently developing several technologies that aim to realize that vision.

So it's a "spare parts" machine. Is there really a demand for that with mass produced goods so readily available?

While there is some value in creating custom objects and spare parts, that value alone is limited and cannot compete with the inherent low cost and convenience of mass production. The technologies that DFV is developing are not intended to compete directly with mass production. Rather, we are focused on exploiting the gaps in existing mass production capability that do not readily meet existing demands.

What are some examples of these mass production gaps?

1. When customers only need small numbers or a single unit. This includes making iterative functional prototypes for industrial design and engineering, medical applications such as prosthetics, dentistry, and vision, traditional machine tooling, custom mold fabrication, and so on.

2. Where it is expensive or inconvenient to transport finished products. Direct local fabrication is advantageous in rural or remote areas, during emergencies, after disasters, at sea, in space, or even when conventional methods are not available, (Such as when stores are closed.)

3. When you need to customize each item. This is useful in global markets where good localization is key to market entry. It's also useful in retail markets where personalized products and services can provide a competitive advantage. Another example is scientific research, which often requires combining large scale repetition with small, parametrically-controlled variation. (i.e. DNA/Protein microarrays) In many cases, it's important not only to be able to customize form and appearance, but function as well.

Some important future applications, such as tissue engineering, will require technologies that overcome all of the production gaps listed above.

What kind of software does this need?

That’s a critically important question, as a fabrication device is useless by itself. It needs to be combined with software that allows users to easily create, download, simulate, modify, and share designs before they print it. It must be easy to use, flexible, and extensible, just like modern word processors. As part of its development efforts, DFV is creating a prototype for just such a system.

What kind of markets will be targeted for commercialization?

For now, we are categorizing our markets into two classes:

1. Institutional/vertical markets: These include medical, dental, manufacturing, industrial design, communications, engineering, automotive, robotics, traditional machining and fabrication, agriculture, packaging, science and research, architecture, engineering, construction, transportation, and entertainment industries. These represent customers who can immediately see how the technology impacts their bottom line. They all have a current quantifiable need for one-off parts and/or tests of physical objects or scenarios. These markets provide a way for us to sell products based on our technology (including hardware, software, and service products) right away. They also allow us to sustain the business for the longer term required to develop products for the consumer markets described below. The downsides include long, consultative sales cycles and highly specialized product needs.

2. Base/consumer markets: These include invention, scale modeling and other hobbies, crafts, sporting, education, household (Home Depot), fashion, toys and entertainment, etc. These markets are more oriented towards the individual and personal idea exploration. In order to provide value, the products will have to be both extremely cheap and easy to use. It will only make sense to enter these markets when buying a digital fabrication product is a casual decision, just like buying an ink jet printer or cordless drill is today. We don't view these markets as appropriate for the first few generations of our products, and it will probably take 10-15 years and contributions from many third parties to develop the technology to that level. They do, however, represent a scale of opportunities that may ultimately overshadow those found in vertical industries alone.

This idea is very cutting edge, and the market is not established. What is the underlying value proposition?

We see value in taking the capabilities traditionally limited to the machine shop, and making them accessible to a greater number of people. We see value in lowering the initial investment, overhead, time requirements, crafting skill, and technical expertise currently required to make all manner of things, including tools and "smart" objects. We see value in giving innovative individuals the power to implement ideas for themselves. These are the values that drive our vision.

We are currently witnessing a phenomenon where personal invention and self-expression through technology are growing into a kind of cultural currency. This is similar to what happened in networked computing over ten years ago, culminating in today's internet. We believe that when people are given more control over their environments, they can do great things. We also believe that personal fabrication can help people connect physical and online worlds in ways that are more meaningful and valuable. The aim of our technology is to extend a tool-making human's domain over both atoms and bits, and to empower users working to uncover new opportunities where those two worlds intersect.

How will DFV go about developing the technology?

To use digital fabrication technology, there are essentially three things that one needs; a design, a fabricating machine, and raw materials. Each of these three components needs further development in order to provide a practical, effective solution for the end user and therefore to viably commercialize a whole system. They represent three primary areas of opportunity. We believe that all three of these components offer fertile ground for a start-up venture at this point in time, and we are in the process of developing prototypes and securing intellectual properties in each arena.

At the same time, we are continuing to analyze all of our potential target markets and customer needs, with a focus on those that will provide the fastest path to revenue.

We are also looking to grow our staff. We are actively looking for expertise in:

  • Business Administration and Finance

  • Marketing and Intellectual Property Management

  • Mechatronics, Mechanical Engineering, and Materials Science

  • Computer Science with specialties in interactive 3D, CAD/CAM, FEM–based multiphysics, and/or information theory

  • Electrical Engineering with specialties in MEMS and/or microcontrollers

  • 2D and 3D Interaction Design

  • Chemical Engineering with specialties in semiconductors (inorganic, organic, and polymer-based,) photosensitive resins, thermoplastics, inks, and/or renewable materials

  • Industrial Manufacturing

Copyright ® 2007 Digital Fabrication Ventures. All rights reserved. The technology described in this website is the subject of one or more US and foreign patents and patents pending by Digital Fabrication Ventures and may not be practiced without a written license from Digital Fabrication Ventures.